The prophet Samuel furiously chastises King Saul for failing to heed God’s order to destroy all the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3). The American artist John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) in Saul Reproved by Samuel for not Obeying the Commandments of the Lord (1798) depicts Saul, rejected by Samuel for having spared the life of the Amalekite king Agag, holding onto the prophet’s robe and pleading for forgiveness. When the robe tears, Samuel says, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day. . . .” (1 Samuel 15:28). Copley is famous for painting portraits of American revolutionary figures like Samuel Adams.
The Prophet Samuel’s Denunciation of Monarchy (The “Rule of the King”).
1 Samuel 8: 1-22 (New Revised Standard Version).
When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.’ When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”
Robert Alter’s translation and commentary. The David Story. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1999, pp. 41-45.
Reenactment of 1 Samuel 8 in the miniseries The Bible. History Channel, March 10, 2013. YouTube. Also find it here.
Samuel’s Denunciation of Kingship in the Light of the Akkadian Documents from Ugarit. By I. Mendelsohn. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 143 (October 1956).
It is the general consensus of Old Testament scholars that the passage denouncing kingship in I Sam. 8:4-17 is a late document reflecting actual experience of the ways of Israelite and Judean kingship but put into the mouth of the first king-maker in order to lend to it authority. The thesis of this paper is that on the basis of the new data from Alalakh and particularly from Ugarit, dating from the 18th to the 13th century B.C., there is good reason to assume that the Samuel account is an authentic description of the semi-feudal Canaanite society as it existed prior to and during the time of Samuel and that its author could conceivably have been the prophet himself or a spokesman of the antimonarchical movement of that period.
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In view of the evidence from the Akkadian texts from Ugarit it seems obvious that the Samuel summary of “the manner of the king” does not constitute “a rewriting of history” by a late opponent of kingship but represents an eloquent appeal to the people by a contemporary of Saul not to impose upon themselves a Canaanite institution alien to their own way of life.
A King Like All The Nations: The Composition of I Sam 8, 11-18. By Mark Leuchter. Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, Vol. 117, No. 4 (January 2006).
Scholars are typically divided over Samuel’s denunciation of kingship in I Sam 8,11–18 (“Rule of the King”) generally categorizing it as contemporaneous with the 11th century prophet or viewing it as an exilic or post-exilic criticism of Israelite kingship. Both of these readings, however, are problematic, and necessitate a re-evaluation of the passage. A careful comparison with records from the royal archives of Assyria in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, coupled with an analysis of lexical patterns within the Biblical passage itself, suggests that I Sam 8,11–18 constitutes a Josianic-era meditation on Israel’s experience with the neo-Assyrian monarchs. When viewed in tandem with I Sam 12, the Rule of the King contrasts non-Davidic kingship with the covenantal dimensions of the Davidic line, and anticipates and legitimizes the religious and political imperatives of Josiah.
The Pre-Deuteronomistic Story of King Saul and Its Historical Significance. By Nadav Na’aman. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 4 (October 1992).
1 Samuel 8:11-18 as “A Mirror for Princes.” By Jonathan Kaplan. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 131, No. 4 (Winter 2012).
An Obedient Servant? The Reign of King Saul (1 Samuel 13-15) Reassessed. By Dawn Maria Sellars. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol. 35, No. 3 (March 2011).
Hobbes and the prophet Samuel on leviathan government. By Arye L. Hillman. Public Choice, Vol. 141, No. 1/2 (October 2009). With responses.
George Washington: American Moses. By Robert P. Hay. American Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 4 (Winter 1969).
The “divine right of republics”: Hebraic Republicanism and the Debate over Kingless Government in Revolutionary America. By Nathan R. Perl-Rosenthal. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 66, No. 3 (July 2009).
The Bible in the Political Rhetoric of the American Founding. By Daniel L. Dreisbach. Religion and Politics, Vol. 4, No. 3 (December 2011).
“A Perfect Republic”: The Mosaic Constitution in Revolutionary New England, 1775–1788. By Eran Shalev. The New England Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 2 (June 2009).
The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States. By Samuel Langdon. Concord, New Hampshire, June 5, 1788. Online Library of Liberty. Also find it here.
A Sermon on the Day of the Commencement of the Constitution. By Samuel Cooper. Boston, October 25, 1780. Online Library of Liberty. Also find it here.
Such was the civil constitution of the Hebrew nation, till growing weary of the gift of heaven, they demanded a king. After being admonished by the prophet Samuel of the ingratitude and folly of their request, they were punished in the grant of it. Impiety, corruption and disorder of every kind afterwards increasing among them, they grew ripe for the judgments of heaven in their desolation and captivity. Taught by these judgments the value of those blessings they had before despised, and groaning under the hand of tyranny more heavy than that of death, they felt the worth of their former civil and religious privileges, and were prepared to receive with gratitude and joy a restoration not barely to the land flowing with milk and honey, but to the most precious advantage they ever enjoyed in that land, their original constitution of government: They were prepared to welcome with the voice of mirth and thanksgiving the re-establishment of their congregations; nobles chosen from among themselves, and a governor proceeding from the midst of them.
Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession. From Common Sense. By Thomas Paine. Online Library of Liberty. Also find it here.
As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty as declared by Gideon, and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by Kings. All anti-monarchical parts of scripture, have been very smoothly glossed over in monarchical governments, but they undoubtedly merit the attention of countries which have their governments yet to form.
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1 Samuel 8 with Paine’s embedded commentary:
The hankering which the Jews had for the idolatrous customs of the Heathens, is something exceedingly unaccountable; but so it was, that laying hold of the misconduct of Samuel’s two sons, who were intrusted with some secular concerns, they came in an abrupt and clamorous manner to Samuel, saying, Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways, now make us a king to judge us like all the other nations. And here we cannot but observe that their motives were bad, viz. that they might be like unto other nations, i. e. the Heathens, whereas their true glory lay in being as much unlike them as possible. But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, give us a King to judge us; and Samuel prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord said unto Samuel, hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, THAT I SHOULD NOT REIGN OVER THEM. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other Gods: so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice, howbeit, protest solemnly unto them and show them the manner of the King that shall reign over them, i. e. not of any particular King, but the general manner of the Kings of the earth whom Israel was so eagerly copying after. And notwithstanding the great distance of time and difference of manners, the character is still in fashion. And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people, that asked of him a King. And he said, This shall be the manner of the King that shall reign over you. He will take your sons and appoint them for himself for his chariots and to be his horsemen, and some shall run before his chariots (this description agrees with the present mode of impressing men) and he will appoint him captains over thousands and captains over fifties, will set them to ear his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers (this describes the expense and luxury as well as the oppression of Kings) and he will take your fields and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give them to his officers and to his servants (by which we see that bribery, corruption, and favouritism, are the standing vices of Kings) and he will take the tenth of your men servants, and your maid servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work: and he will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants, and ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen, AND THE LORD WILL NOT HEAR YOU IN THAT DAY. This accounts for the continuation of Monarchy; neither do the characters of the few good kings which have lived since, either sanctify the title, or blot out the sinfulness of the origin; the high encomium given of David takes no notice of him officially as a King, but only as a Man after God’s own heart. Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel, and they said, Nay but we will have a king over us, that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us and fight our battles. Samuel continued to reason with them but to no purpose; he set before them their ingratitude, but all would not avail; and seeing them fully bent on their folly, he cried out, I will call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain (which was then a punishment, being in the time of wheat harvest) that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, IN ASKING YOU A KING. So Samuel called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God that we die not, for WE HAVE ADDED UNTO OUR SINS THIS EVIL, TO ASK A KING. These portions of scripture are direct and positive. They admit of no equivocal construction. That the Almighty hath here entered his protest against monarchical government is true, or the scripture is false. And a man hath good reason to believe that there is as much of kingcraft as priestcraft in withholding the scripture from the public in popish countries. For monarchy in every instance is the popery of government.